I just thought you might like to know that I will be running the 106th Boston Marathon on Monday April 15th, starting at noon. If you live in the Boston area, your support along the course would mean a world to me, my Bib number is 11424. you can get online on race day at www.bostonmarathon.com and check my progress live. So, here is my story:
I started running as a subtitute for the long hikes in the mountains around Tehran. I missed the quiet of Tochal, the old mountaineers of Shirpala, the magnificence of Damavand, the noisy crowd of Darakeh, and the serenity of Darabad. I missed opening a window and facing this stunning wall that is the Alborz range. I missed climbing to higher and higher elevations and seeing my dear Tehran covered under that everlasting ceiling of smog.
Here I was, in Maryland, USA, where the highest “mountain” is a mere bump. So, I started to run five years ago, first for fitness purposes I guess, to avoid getting rusty. Substituting noon-o-paneer-o-hendooneh with McSomething and fries wasn't doing my health a service either.
My runs were a mile or two around the block and an occasional 3-4 miler which made me so unbelievably proud of myself. A year or two later, I signed up for a 5K race in my neighborhood, then another one, and another. And that was it, I was hooked.
I had experienced the “runner's high” and it was great. In my first 8K race three years ago, I was running side by side a woman in her 40s, trying hard to keep up and beat her. At the end of the race, we started chatting and she told me she was recovering from running the Boston Marathon a month before. I was awestruck. A Marathon! A challenge fit for superhumans. So far, so splendid, so lonely.
But that passed, my running had become more serious over the years. Now my regular runs were 6 miles in the middle of a humid summer day. I found a running mate, but it didn't last. I ran in solitude and enjoyed the peace of it. It was a whim that drove me to signing up for my first marathon.
I started reading about this training program and got all excited and next thing was that I signed up to run. And I started training hard. Being a novice, I got dehydrated, I got anemic, I screwed up my knee. But the knee heeled, the red blood cells got their act together, and the lost water was replaced.
And then came the day of my first marathon, a week after my 30th birthday. It was a small trail marathon. 300 something people, all on a flat trail with almost no spectators.
Towards the end, I was going on for miles without a single soul around me, I was so tired everything in my body was screaming. A woman came by and said “Let's pretend we're tied together and run,” I tied myself to her for a mile, but had to cut the tie and set her free. I couldn't keep up.
Finally, I saw a banner in the distance, FINISH! I passed with a smile on my face and an explicable joy in my heart. 3:45:45. A volunteer hung a medal around my neck, another one put a hand on my shoulder and gave me some water. My fiance wrapped my coat around my body. I was numb and dazed and feeling wonderful.
I found a grassy patch and collapsed. Floating between life and death. I heard myself asking Loay to take my shoes off, and then passed out. And now here I am. A year and a half and 4 marathons later, preparing myself for the mother of all races, the Boston Marathon.
There will be more than 16,000 top runners from around the world and then, me. But, there's more, something larger than me. It was only when I received my confirmation that I realized I'm not “Azin, runner from Baltimore” this time. I am “Azin, runner from the Islamic Republic of Iran”.
Over my months and months of training, I have been thinking of the significance of being a representative of my country. This is tough to explain, but I wanted my roots be known to everybody. I thought of running wearing the colors of our flag, a green cap, a white singlet and red shorts.
Then there was September 11th and this urge got stronger and changed in nature. Then I became part of an “Axis of Evil' , and then came the violence in the Middle East and the plight of the Palestinian people.
So, in three days, I will be running the world's oldest marathon. I feel so honored to be part of this wonderful tradition. For 26.2 miles (42 km), I will be running in a modest long sleeve light gray running shirt and matching long pants.
And no matter how many runners are out there, you can't miss me; I will be running with hejab, a black and white checkered scarf, the same as my Palestinian brothers and sisters, covering my hair and claiming strong and proud, who I am, where I'm from, and what this day means to me.
Azin Nezami is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University.